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A Life To Be Celebrated: The Anniversary of José’s Death

The star pitcher gone far too soon still had an enormous impact on the baseball community (myself included).

Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

This article was originally published on Sept. 25, 2018.

Two years ago, a young man by the name of José Fernández, who you all know, died off the coast of Miami in what remains the most tragic event in Marlins history. Although the anniversary is a very somber day for all, I feel it is important that we focus on the life that José lived and all of the lives that he impacted around him.

I am one of so many fans who were drawn to José by his infectious personality and genuine love for the game. When José died, I was shocked. My role model in life and on the baseball field just disappeared in the blink of an eye and I think the whole South Florida community felt it, too. The energy he carried with him at all times is irreplaceable.

When it came time to write my college essay during senior year of high school, I was faced with this question: “Discuss an event that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture.” The subject choice was obvious.

Here is my college essay on the one and only José Fernández.

It was a crisp fall Sunday in Connecticut, and I was gazing out at my high school’s baseball field in the midst of a morning doubleheader. I had momentarily glanced up when the sound of an ESPN notification caught my ear and sent my attention back down towards my phone. Given the time of year, I was expecting news on an NFL player’s injury, or maybe even a story on Vin Scully’s last game, which was to occur later that night.

I was not prepared in the slightest for the words that appeared upon the screen. I read the words aloud and shrieked: “José Fernández, 24, died in a tragic boating accident late last night.”

My eyes darted across the screen over and over again in hopes that the words would magically disappear. This was someone I had never met, and yet I knew that my life would never be the same again.

To most, José Fernández was “just” an MLB player for the Miami Marlins, but to me, he represented far more. He was a young man who lived with a passion and energy exceeded by no one, a man who always had a smile on his face. He put everything on the line to accomplish his dream of defecting from poverty-plagued Cuba to play professional baseball in the USA. It was his life that opened my eyes to the beautiful game of baseball. More significantly, it was his death that taught me the ultimate lesson on my journey to adulthood: to have a successful life, it is your heart and soul that will set you apart from everyone else.

The first time I encountered Fernández’s unique persona was August 2, 2013. While I did not know it at the time, this was a key moment in my transition from childhood to adulthood. My father and I had travelled down to Miami to see the Marlins play the Indians. Shortly after making it down through the crowded gates to our field-level seats, the show began. José Fernández, then just a baby-faced 21-year-old, trotted to the mound for the Marlins. Right off the bat, he blew the 20,000 people in attendance away with a 99 mile-per-hour fastball. More impressive than his otherworldly physical talents was his demeanor on the mound. He exuded a confidence that could be best described as magnetic. He had an uncanny ability to draw people in and leave them wanting more.

As the game wore on, Fernández used his flaming fastball and knee-buckling curveball to tack on strikeout after strikeout. Before I knew it, he was walking back to the dugout after his final inning of work. In true form, he seemed to embrace every cheer, clap, and wave and gifted the crowd with his huge, signature smile. As talented as José was, it was ultimately his heart and soul that had propelled him to success that afternoon.

In the weeks and months after that game, I came to realize that my original dream had changed. While I enjoyed playing the game of baseball, my true passion now lies in analyzing the game using a scientific approach: sabermetrics. All of the ins and outs of the game and the mental processes that go on behind the scenes intrigue me in a way that they never would have just years before. Statistics such as, Pitch f/x, perceived velocity, launch angle, and route efficiency allow me to see the sport in a different light. I am no longer seeing the game through the eyes of a child, but as a young adult pursuing my dream of working in the front office of an MLB franchise and as I progress through my life, I will harness a passion and enthusiasm from José himself.

I submitted the essay and all was well. I was satisfied with the finished product and how it glorified this extraordinary man.

Then, three days after submitting, the FBI released more information into the death of José and the events that took place before his death on the boat that night, which explained the reason for the crash. I was distraught. I was terrified that the schools I applied to would not respect my essay because of the information in those reports. Above all, I was upset that a person I looked up to with a great deal of respect had let me down.

But the more I thought about it, the more my perspective changed. The person that José was to me and to everyone that got to witness him pitch and put his entire life on the field should not be changed by one night. An intense and fiery competitor will always define José. The demons that José dealt with will always put a damper on his reputation, but everyone knows that José was so much more than the things that lead to his downfall.

Today, let’s remember who José was and why he will always have a place amongst the legends of baseball history.